Cuomo said he will pardon individuals convicted of a misdemeanor or non-violent felony when they were 16 or 17 years old, so long as they have not been convicted of any other crimes for 10 years.
About 350 individuals should be eligible for pardon annually, Cuomo said.
The pardons will not apply to those originally convicted of a sex crime.
Eligible residents must also have paid taxes on any income since their conviction, and must be “a productive member” of their community, which means they are in school, working, looking for work, or legitimately disabled.
Members of Cuomo’s staff will review those convicted of crimes as minors and attempt to contact individuals eligible for a pardon. Residents can also apply for a pardon on the state’s website.
“We spent all of these years believing that if we punished every offender enough without any relief in the future, every crime would disappear,” Cuomo said. “What we ultimately did was give a life sentence of stigmatization to kids who made a mistake and drive more people towards crime.”
“This initiative is about validating the personal commitment of people who turned their lives around and rejected crime in exchange for being a contributing member of society,” he said.
The announcement was praised by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which advocates for sentencing reform.
In a 2014 study, the Association noted that an estimated 65 million Americans, or 25 percent of adults, have a criminal record, which often hinders their ability to obtain necessities like work, housing, and education.
Norman L. Reimer, the Association’s executive director, said Monday that Cuomo’s decision is “a major step forward in the effort to combat the life-altering consequences of a criminal conviction.”